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In the Crossfire

Is Martha Stewart a scapegoat?

(CNN) -- Two high-profile executives have been making headlines in recent days. Congressional investigators say they have reached the end of the road with Martha Stewart and are threatening a subpoena, and lawmakers say they are increasingly frustrated by her level of cooperation with a probe into allegations of insider trading.

Divorce papers filed by the wife of Jack Welch Jr., the former CEO of General Electric Co., allege that GE covered living costs for the couple while he was working for the company and will continue to cover him for the rest of his life -- disclosures the firm never alluded to.

Is Stewart being made a scapegoat or evading questions? And is it fair for shareholders to pay the tab for Welch's expenses or does he deserve the perks?

Forbes magazine managing editor Dennis Kneale and Ben Bycel of Common Cause stepped into the "Crossfire" with hosts Paul Begala and Robert Novak on Friday.

NOVAK: [Martha Stewart] is being dragged before [the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee]. She got rid of some stock. It is not a big deal. There's a lot of other things they could be investigating. Why are they investigating her?

It was explained [Friday] in The Wall Street Journal by Holman Jenkins, one of the best business columnists in America. Let me just read from this column. "Mr. Greenwood's subcommittee ..." -- this is James Greenwood, liberal Republican of Pennsylvania -- "... is pursuing Ms. Stewart solely because she's a celebrity, just like Mr. Greenwood wants to be. But having had his jollies and appeared on a dozen talking-head shows, the moment has come to notice that the evidence is circumstantial and it all points to no crime being committed by Ms. Stewart."

Aren't you sophisticated enough to know when you've got a television-grabbing, ambitious congressman at work?

BYCEL: Look, on the positive side for Martha Stewart, she is taking the heat for all those executives, like Ken Lay and all the rest of them. ... So that's the positive side. In other words, she is a whiner. She is a complete whiner. She lived by fame. Every day, she benefits by fame. And now she gets caught. You have to believe 10 incredible facts to believe that she isn't guilty of, at least, obstruction of justice, if not insider trading.

NOVAK: Mr. Kneale?

BEGALA: Mr. Kneale, yes, what do you think about Martha Stewart?

KNEALE: OK. A couple of things. The very next thing that will happen is, yes, the congressional committee will indeed subpoena Martha Stewart. That's without a doubt what's going to happen, right?

And then all of us in the media are just going to go wild with this and cover it, cover every moment of it, because we love this. But the fact is this is a tempest in a Cuisinart. This is nothing. It's an embarrassment that they are still investigating this. And they're never going to prove a case against her either.

BEGALA: Shouldn't this Republican congressman, who's going after the one Democratic businessperson in trouble, also subpoena Jack Welch?

NOVAK: What did Jack Welch do?


BEGALA: Well, we should know. ...

NOVAK: Why don't we subpoena Paul Begala, for crying out loud?

BYCEL: All I know is I'm going right out to Target and buying my Martha Stewart before it's gone.

NOVAK: You surely don't agree that they should subpoena Jack Welch.

BYCEL: No. Jack Welch's marital problems are not my problem.

NOVAK: All right. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

BEGALA: I don't want to know his marital problems. I want to know if he's paying taxes on those [perks].




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